Tuesday, February 9, 2016

my mind at midnight

It's midnight. The dog needs to go out. I stumble through the house, fumble with his crate. The kitchen floor is ice under my sleep-warm feet. I open the door. Winter exhales right in my face and my goosebumps push back against the cold. The dog goes out.

The dog comes in.

I tuck him back into his crate and tumble back into my own covers. I close my eyes.

But sleep must have slipped out the open door and gotten stuck in the snow somewhere. My mind decides to stay sitting up in bed, wringing its hands in the dark.

Worry.

Say the word aloud: it sounds like spinning wheels. Questions that poke into the past and prod into the future. Places where a midnight mind never belongs.

It's nothing. It's everything. I toss. I turn. It takes me a long time to remember what to do.

Breathe.

Deep and downreaching. Slow and the single most important thing in the room.

I am surprised how different a deep breath feels. Shallow breaths are constricted, pressured, urgent, demanding. Deep breaths are full of space in all directions. In all dimensions -- even time feels more open.

My mind fights against my breath. It wants to keep spinning tightly, winding more and more questions, predictions, and admonishments around my chest until I am crushed.

But my breath is patient, stretching at the bindings until my thoughts float above the surface of my skin and sleep settles back in, a cushion between my body and mind.

Everything goes quiet.

I sleep.

In the morning, everything is fine. Of course it is. But I am reminded again how easily I forget about my breath. I'd like to remember it more often.

This is something I have to practice.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Seeing is Knowing

This is not news: I lack self confidence.

I always have. Despite support. Despite success. I don't know why. It's part of my fiber, I guess.

This has been getting better lately, though. I'm really working on it. It feels good. I feel like I'm on the rise.

Yesterday I had what felt like a break-through-the-glass realization. My skull pressed against some invisible, solid barrier and it broke through. I'm out of my own atmosphere all of the sudden and I'm catching my breath. There's more oxygen out here and my eyes are open wide.

It starts here:

I've always felt somehow less-than. Lower. Inadequate because my view is so narrow. I don't travel. I have never been good at staying abreast of current events. I don't consider myself well read. I don't form strong opinions. I don't interact with the world very much. My life is not cutting edge or adventurous. I'm in my house a lot. In my head a lot. I've always felt embarassed by my lack of worldliness. Unqualified. Uninteresting. Dull.

Which always leads me here:

There's no way I can write meaningful fiction. Where is my credibility? How could I even have a voice? What do I even know?

Write what you know -- this is what they say. But all I know is kids and cleaning, chauffeuring and online tutoring. Dogs and bus stops and farmer's markets; walks, parks, dance classes. All of this is great, but I don't really want to write a story about any of it.

But then: rise, press, crack --

-- and suddenly I find myself here:

Working on a fiction piece, feeling good, feeling strong, energized by the realization that I can write anything I want. Not because I'm worldly but because I see.

I see shadows in a full moon midnight, long black slats of darker darkness cutting across the yard. I see the new day peeling the lid off the night. I see the moon and I put it on my tongue. It cools my throat. I see absence and presence and exhalations. I know love. I know loss. I know fear. I know trust.

I am an elderly man. A queer woman. A bereaved parent. I am any of these; I am all of these. Because I can see.

And it's about time I acknowledge the value in that.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

the plant in my living room

There's a plant in my living room. It's been there for over two years.

It doesn't look very good again. It must be time to water it.

I try to water it regularly. Give it plant food sometimes. Trim off the dry, brown leaves, turn it so the sunlight can touch even the side tucked in the shadows. I've tried moving it to different corners of the living room. These relocations are usually done out of necessity -- We're putting the Christmas tree here, so this shelf will have to go over there. And -- hm -- the plant can go over there -- but I always think this will be good for it. Maybe a new spot is just what it needs.

I've seen it perk up nicely in response to water, but mostly it looks sad, on the edge of someplace else. But it hangs on.

I don't really have much of a knack for growing things. I'd like to. I always thought I would. I imagined a garden when I fantasized about owning a house. Vegetables for sure. Flowers too, maybe. But I haven't tried very hard to overcome the challenges of shade and soil. And because I've always felt pulled in so many different directions in the house -- kids, chores, work -- growing things has never been a priority.

Kim always kept a beautiful yard. Luscious flower boxes, carefully chosen landscaping elements, herbs in an artsy container over there, tomatoes in a patch over there. A water fountain against the garage, and a deep, rich-sounding wind chime hanging from the pergola there. You could hear it from inside the house if it was quiet. Though if you were inside the house you'd most likely be drawn into a story she was telling. Her energy could fill a room like the sun slanting through the windows on a winter day. Warm on the back of your neck. I miss her.

When Kim died, John's workplace sent us the plant that's still in our living room. It was full and green then; it took up so much space. It had a white ribbon sunk into its soil. The ribbon is long gone and the plant looks thin now. But it's still green. It still sends up new leaves.

It's hope and I'd like to keep it alive.

Monday, January 25, 2016

unmoored

I'll figure it out when I get there.

This is what I told myself when I imagined the delicious unscheduled time I'd spend on my solo trip to Arizona before I'd meet up with the friend I was planning to visit. Time I'd spend alone, not taking care of anyone else or considering another person's needs at all. Just my own.

I'll figure it out when I get there.

I said it like someone with access to a smart phone, with a GPS built into the dashboard of her rental car, with nothing but time and a heart full of adventure and serenity. Like someone who has traveled alone more recently than 12 years ago. I didn't picture myself like this, with 5% of my phone battery left (and falling), driving through a construction zone in the middle of a big, unfamiliar city, with no address to plug into the very helpful GPS display awaiting my input, still feeling the aftershocks of a much-less-smooth-than-expected experience of airline travel.

I had envisioned time in the airport to make last-minute plans, cup of coffee in my hand, waiting to board my flight. An airport is just a gigantic waiting room. A place of transition. Limbo. At least that's how I remembered it.

Instead it was a rushing, sweaty, heart-in-throat experience that involved arriving later than I should have, parking in a more expensive lot than I had intended, mentally hurrying security line forward only to find out I had waited through the wrong one (what?!), and boarding the plane -- just in time -- with a full bladder (and a serious aversion to airplane bathrooms).

Once the flight ended (and I finally used the bathroom -- dear lord), I retrieved my checked luggage without issue and got my rental car. But I was talked into an expensive upgrade to a 4x4 by the guy behind the counter because of all the snow that had fallen in the area the day before.

"Some highways are closed," he had said.

I felt skeptical about the necessity and ridiculous for not even asking around for a lower rate. But I had signed the paperwork and was pulling out of the lot, and all I could hear were all should-haves bouncing and clattering behind the car like tin cans tied to a honeymooning couple's rear bumper. Only I wasn't driving off into the sunset.

My stomach was in knots, my mind was jittery. I felt young. I felt old. I felt stupid. Talking to my husband helped (he's reassuring and optimistic by nature), but I still felt unmoored. (Spell check wants me to change this word to unarmored. This is an accurate suggestion).

What was I doing? Where was my sense of adventure? If I ever had an inner compass, it had gone completely haywire. Maybe I should have stayed home. I like being home. I really do. I like things safe and quiet. But my house isn't often quiet. I was hoping to find that here. I still could. I just needed to regroup. I pulled over, hurriedly googled restaurants near me, and plugged an address into the GPS.

The traffic thinned once I was out of the construction zone, and within a few blocks I saw the cute, trendy cafe my internet search had recommended. I drove past it three times, circling the block again and again even though I could see open parking spots. It felt like a big decision to stop here. Were they open? Would I get a parking ticket? Could I find a spot to plug in my phone? I was being stupid, I knew. I was almost laughing at myself, except I also felt like crying. I needed something to eat.

I finally parked the car and went inside. I blinked as if coming in from the bright sunshine or in from the bitter cold. But the difference was neither of those things.

In here, the music was chill and familiar. The lunch crowd hadn't arrived yet so the space was fairly empty. Casual. Relaxed. A huge exhale. I was coming in, out of my head.

"Do I just order here?" I asked the woman behind the sit-down bar. There seemed to be a main counter, too. I was probably wearing lost like an ugly sweater.

"Yah, you can. No problem." She gave me a menu and I chose the frittata -- quickly -- before I could start second guessing this decision, too. "Sounds great; I'll put that in," she said.

"Thanks," I said, resisting the very strong urge to tell her everything that was pressing on the lump in my throat.

I picked a table (another decision I could make!) and set my backpack on the ground. I draped my coat over the chair. There was an outlet in the wall under the table. I plugged in my phone. The food came and I ate. I drank some coffee.

I texted the friend I would meet later and texted home to say hello. I looked up directions to a hiking trail I'd wanted to try. I finished my coffee. I felt like I could breathe again.

When I left the cafe I said goodbye to the woman behind the bar. I wanted to thank her for changing the trajectory of my day, but it seemed like too much, and not really true. It wasn't her, though her good customer service skills certainly helped. It was something else -- or a bunch of little things, really: the ritual of a meal, the safety of a phone charged out of the red, the comfort of a destination and set of directions. And something in the quality of the air that pulled the anxiety right off my skin, an effect not unlike the wind created when air moves from high to low pressure.

Looking back and seeing it from the outside, it really didn't take much to ground me, ultimately, out of an unmoored, uncertain state. But to me, in that moment, it was a weather event. A paradigm shift. Everything.

And from there, I had an excellent vacation.

Friday, January 22, 2016

How do you feel?

How do I feel, right now?

First, my feet tingle, waking back up after their doze from when I was sitting cross legged, one foot tucked under my thigh – 

why do I sit like that? 

My legs fall asleep every time and it’s always a miniature agony for them to come back to life. But it feels so cozy to cross my legs, tuck myself in, self-contained, keeping everything out, an origami folding (intricate), a yoga pose (graceful). But pins and needles are never graceful. The pained look on my face, the willing it to go away, the inevitability, and finally the lessening and passing and ease again. I can always feel it when my legs are going numb. That would be a great time to unfold, but the numbness is a special feeling, too. The absence of feeling. The exit of feeling. Feeling draining out and what’s left is a vacuum, an empty space, a breath held out. And the inhale will have to come, and soon, but that gap has its own potential.
I’ve been thinking this week about how I look back on the past 11 years and I feel like I’ve been asleep, in a way. Claire was born four months after I graduated from college, and I wasn’t fully formed then. There was still more unfurling I needed to do. But she was born then and I switch-tracked into motherhood, a place I never really imagined myself inhabiting but never really imagined that I wouldn’t inhabit, either. I was happy to take this path, though. I didn’t have any other plans yet, just some vague dreams that seemed far off anyway. And this was so real and here and in my arms. A baby. Something I created. I see a lot of people cozy into motherhood so easily. Of course, up all night is easy for no one, but I was tangled up in a lot of self-doubt during Claire’s baby days, and to be honest, all of their baby days. Claire, Eliza, Ruth, Rose. Rose is three and a half now, and for the first time in 11 years I don’t have a toddler and an infant or a pregnancy. And so a little bit I feel like I’m unfolding. Or I want to unfold.

My limbs have been bent inward for years. I’ve been sheltering something, keeping everything else out, protecting myself from everything I fear. I think right now I’m at that point just before inhale. I’m empty. I want to take a huge, slow, expansive breath but I’m afraid it’s going to hurt. Does it always hurt to wake up? It’s terrifying to admit how little I really know, how fragile I really am, how shaky my confidence really is. I’m so afraid that I’ll unfold my limbs, and when the feeling comes back I still won’t have anything to say. And I’ve always wanted to have something to say.

Friday, January 15, 2016

to a good friend

I am walking uphill.

This is not a metaphor.

I have micro-spikes on my running shoes, walking sticks in my hands. These have become my good friends.

Right behind me is a true good friend, the kind of friend you may only meet in scraps of time scattered across the years and the whole spread of a country, but with whom a connection always hums. Hiking with her today feels like it could be every day. Like we do this all the time.

My body laughs at this thought, though -- do this all the time. I have been exercising more lately, but the Grand Canyon has a way of humbling a person.

My lungs are heavy. My legs are moving but they feel like a funny mix of jello and concrete. My feet have been barking for miles. I stop - again -- to let my breathing slow and my heart rate climb down out of my eyes. I can see the blood pulsing when I look at the snow. We've been ascending for awhile now, but the rim still seems impossible over our heads. I trace the trail ahead with my gaze, trying to assess the grade. A couple hikers are quite a bit ahead of us. I watch them turn the corner of a switchback and it doesn't look like they're climbing as steeply as we are. They look small. Far away.

"We've got this," my friend says as we push ahead again. I agree with a grunt. Of course we've got this, but I like that she said it aloud. I like that I can hear her feet crunching over the snow behind me. (I like that she let me go first. I was starting to lag, and discouragement was weighing me down. She could feel this.) I like that we've already talked and talked and talked and now we're silent and that feels good, too. I like that I can complain if I want to, stop if I need to catch my breath, fart if I feel so moved. I like that I'm here, now, with her.

We'll get dinner after we're done with this hike, and I'll listen to her read a bedtime story to her daughter later on. She and her husband will both sing Baby Beluga. When her daughter cries out of a nightmare just before sunrise, my friend's voice will float sleepy patience cozy love waves of soft comfort fading into silence and peaceful darkness again.

So much has changed, I'll think as I pull the quilt over my shoulder in the guest bedroom. But it's also true that everything is exactly the same.


Sunday, January 3, 2016

before i write

Actually, if you want to know, my alarm goes off at an hour much earlier than is needed to allow for just the morning pages and the morning walk, at an hour I used to consider a night waking when my kids were babies. My alarm goes off and I shuffle out of bed and into the bathroom, shove my contacts into my bleary eyes and grab the pile of clothing I set out the night before. I use my phone’s home screen like a flashlight to find my way down the hallway, locate my water bottle on the kitchen counter, and head down into the basement, where I flip on the lights full strength. The brightness makes me squint for several blinks. I’m not fully awake.

This is a good thing because I’m going through the motions of routine, not quite capable of analyzing earliness of the hour or the effort the scheduled workout will require. My body is tricking my mind into this. I change out of my cozy, warm pajamas into exercise clothes, pull my dumbbells out of the corner, and load up the DVD. Then I’m doing squats and lunges, or maybe today its hammer curls and pushups. It could be sets of mountain climbers and burpees, or plank variations and crunches. It depends on the day, but you get the idea: I’m sweating.

And then it’s over and I cool down and change into my walking clothes and head back upstairs for my coffee and notebook to write before I head outside to walk the dog.

Why do I do this? I’d say because I’m making time for myself, but that’s not totally it – the writing and the walking fill this category pretty well, so this alone can't be motivation enough to pull me out of bed. And the Lord knows I don’t need to lose weight. I’ve always been that skinny girl, skinny Minnie, the you-should-eat-more, I-wish-I-could-be-that-thin girl. But with all my angles and edges, parts that jut when rounded and curved is more standard, I’ve always been self-conscious about my body.

It’s true that I’m all grown up now, but I will never forget how I felt in 9th grade when a kid I didn’t even know by name stopped in the hallway in front of my locker and asked if I was anorexic. His eyes were lined with disdain, not concern. Or the time I was changing out of my racing flats at a track meet and a girl from another team commented, “Your legs are SO skinny?!?” She did not speak with admiration. My responses were feeble in these situations. Inaudible.  I was never (and still am not) good at dealing with conflict of any kind, but it offended me deeply when someone insinuated that I was unwell or could somehow control my hyperactive metabolism.  I was born skinny. That's it.

I’m still skinny even after having four kids.

I don’t attract mean comments anymore – thank God the world is not a high school – but sometimes people still think it’s okay to comment about my thin stature. This doesn’t bother me like it used to, but for the record I’d like to state that it might be better to consider whether a comment about someone’s body is truly a compliment before it’s spoken. Being thin does not mean I am in love with my body, nor does it indicate that I possess a measurable amount of self-confidence.

But there’s something about doing these workouts that is shaking something awake in me. Does it sound cheesy if I say that getting stronger again is strengthening something in my head, too? That doing something I thought I couldn’t (it would be too boring, I know I don’t have the time, I’ll never stick with it, I’ll get too tired, I’ll be too sore, it’ll be annoying, I’m not a fitness person, etc, etc) is breaking up some really old inner shadows?

I’m starting to be able to see my abs again and my biceps have some substance. I can do ten consecutive pushups (this is progress!) and I can get lower in sumo squats. I’m thinking about buying some new running shoes so I can give that a go again. I might sign up for a race.

I’m still the same skinny girl but I feel bolder, more awake under my skin, full of potential energy. This is not at all dissimilar to how writing makes me feel, actually, and this is why I get up so early in order to do both. It’s like this:

Under every skin is so much
Unseemly
Unshown territory.
Alive on its own no matter
If you lie about it or look for it.
Lamp on skin,
Transluscious
Beads of “Yes, That” wander the web
Of possibility.
My mask is my skin.
How can I be without it?
Out of it?

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

before i walk

Before I walk, I write my morning pages.

This is typically three pages of long hand, scrawled in the half light allowed by the single bulb over the kitchen sink. I usually sit cross-legged on the couch in the very outskirts of this light, my feet tucked under my thighs, pillow on my lap for a makeshift table, notebook on pillow, pen moving across paper. I don't write anything of consequence. It's true that I spend pages complaining. It's an airing of grievances. Anything at all. From the quality of my sleep, to the mysterious ache in my knees, to the list of things I need to accomplish today, with detours into self doubt and existentialism. I throw up my thoughts, letting them splatter and drip down the pages as I turn them.

Sometimes, the daily dump is all I have time for, especially if I've gotten a late start. Other times, I run out of things to say as I bore my own socks off with the tedium of the contents of my mind, and I run up against a huge wall of resistance, a big fat mental ugh. 

I don't want to put forth
   the effort it would take
     to drag my pen across the lines
       for the number of words I'd need use
         to tell myself all the stuff
           I already know.

I could stop here.

But if keep pressing against this wall, my my fist eventually cracks the glass (because it wasn't a wall but a window all along), and my pen suddenly has the space and energy to move faster. This is a shift into a different mode of writing. A step back from the window I've been pressing my eye against, and suddenly instead of just the fog from my own breath and a few twinkling lights on the other side, there's crisp, cold air and the whole world right in front of me. Lately, I've been using this broken-glass time to piece out bits of a story I'm working on. I'll walk my character down the stairs and into the basement. I'll describe the squeak of the stairs, the way his own weight threatens the stability of his knees, the feel of finality of the concrete under his feet when he first steps onto the basement floor.

But then it'll be time to close my notebook, and the dog will leap up as soon as he hears my pen click, and then it'll be the walk and then the breakfasts and getting ready and making lunches and the bus stop, and I swear my children try to use their voices like battering rams against my ear drums, and then they're gone for the day and I have my work to complete and so many chores and the 3-year-old at my elbow through it all.

There's something special about writing the morning pages, though, especially on days when I can cut through all that garbage floating at the surface. I like writing from this underwater place. It helps me remember that I am more than my to-do list. I am more than my body. I am more than my mind. Even if it's only for the space of ten notebook lines, five minutes of time, I am buoyed by the chance to connect to myself. My Self.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

walking

In the early mornings, I walk my dog. Early, before the kids are up. Early, before I’ve had any coffee. Early, when the sleep still clings to the corners of my eyes, I put on yesterday’s clothing, and I go out. Now, in this season, it is always dark at this hour. Dark in varying degrees depending on the moon’s phase and the cloud cover, but always dark. The sharpest mornings are the clear ones, the cold ones. I walk down the driveway with my eyes on the sky, Orion the Hunter tilted sideways above me, watching. My breath hangs in the air, frozen, and I move forward, lengths behind my eager dog, who has been waiting with painful patience for me to don all my layers. He wears the same thing today that he wore in the middle of July. I imagine he thinks I’m tedious, but he puts up with me, nose in the door jamb. He is unwilling to miss its opening.

Most days I turn the corner and walk a few houses down, under a street light, through the heavy shadows still sleeping stretched out across the street, and stop at the bottom of my neighbor’s driveway to wait. But on the days my neighbor and her dog don’t join me, I cross the street early and continue on in silence. I wait at the street lights. The light turns, green floods the pavement, and I cross. Sawyer lifts his leg at the base of the street light, the bush we pass next, the foot of a tree: Sawyer was here, Sawyer was here, Sawyer was here. Invisible dog graffiti.

Paws on pavement, boots on gravel, we turn off the sidewalk and into the Conservancy. On the darkest mornings, if I’m alone, I keep one eye on Sawyer as we start down the wide path. If he’s all excitement and unbounded energy, I relax into the rhythm of my steps. But on occasion, I’ve seen him alert in a different way, attention on something I can’t perceive. I tell myself he hears an animal -- a doe, a vole, another dog -- but the hair on the back of my neck stands up. My antenna is swiveling, trying to pick up whatever signal he senses. Stop being a baby, I tell myself as I assess the cell phone in my pocket, my feeble self-defence skills, the likelihood of Sawyer’s ability to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. On these mornings, when I’m alone, when the clouds cover Orion and the moon, when I’m alert and on edge, I turn around early, only going as far as the water tower. I won’t go down the big hill beyond that point. The darkness looks deeper from here, an ocean I’m afraid to swim, even though I’ve been through it hundreds of times before. We retreat back to the sidewalk, the street lights; cross at the cross walk again and back up our driveway, where a light is on in the bathroom. I go into the house and start making someone’s breakfast. I drink my coffee and make the lunches. Through the window I see the sky lightening, the suggestion of the sun. The street looks different from here, in this light.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What I Did During Winter Break

I've been binge-watching Downton Abbey these past two weeks.

Normally, I don't have time to watch TV. My days are full of kids, housekeeping, food preparations, family chauffeuring. Nights are when I work.  But during winter break, everything got quiet (except for the kids' voices -- it's loud with everyone home). There has been so much less to do (except for holiday activities -- there was that sweet busy-ness). And come nighttime, I had some real, actual free time. I hardly recognized it.

We just subscribed to Amazon Prime (for holiday shipping deals). Suddenly we have access to all kinds of media we hadn't before, so I finally got to try out Downton, which I've been hearing about for years as a must-watch. And -- oh! -- I was completely taken in. Absorbed, transfixed, rapt. It's been better than a movie because it is divided into small parcles I can handle without staying up too late. And with four seasons to catch up on, the story just goes on and on. One episode ends and then there's another -- so many conflicts and resolutions, highs and lows, and I never have to turn the last page. I don't have to say goodbye. Now I'm friends with the characters; I'm committed to the plot. I don't want to put it down.

The girls have been asking, "Mama, how many episodes of Downton Abbey have you watched?" They're incredulous. They know I don't really watch TV, don't really approve of all that watching. Oh, that attention-sucking, energy-feeding screen. They know how I feel.

But winter break is ending; the holidays are are almost over. Soon it'll be time to leave off gluttony of all kinds and return to the usual routines. That's okay with me -- routines are safe; I know my place in things. But I've enjoyed the break very much. And I'm not done with Downton Abbey. I'll find some time to watch it.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

freedom

I woke up
with glass shards in my mouth.
I spit them at moving targets
and I was sorry.

But I thanked God
or whoever
for that quick heel stamp,
that satisfying give and
crack.

Because there's nothing you can do
with a mirror but
reflect the cloudy sky
or collect grains of fog.
(Unless you're lucky and
it's sunny. Otherwise,
you're stuck
with gummed up and heavy.)

Sharp, ragged, dangerous,
shards draw blood.
But rounded and rearranged,
I see art.

And I'm grateful for the choice.

Monday, December 22, 2014

shaking hands

I remember when we were first looking at houses, how the empty rooms seemed so expansive. There was so much potential. I couldn't even imagine our stuff in the space. How would we fill it? We had just two kids then, and they loved to run circles in these spaces, turn summersaults if there was carpet, and their shrieks and laughter bounced off the walls. Everything was big, empty, and possible. Now the house we're settled in feels cluttered; the stuff is always closing in on me, pulling toward the center of the room so it's hard to walk through. A million books on the ottoman at the center of the living room, papers in the middle of the kitchen table, toys clogging the playroom, clothing at the heart of every bedroom. Sometimes I'd like to just get rid of it all, start over with those empty spaces, think more carefully about how to fill them. But -- that's not possible. We're up to our necks in it at this point.
___

A sweatshirt crumpled at my feet. A tissue balled up on the floor. Dust, dust, everywhere, except on the path through the room. It's messy in my bedroom, but neater than I've had it for a long time. What is so pleasing to me about a neat space? Order, everything snapped into place: a lego house. Out of order is the potential for falling apart, for rotting boards, for rain seeping in. I want everything to look untouched. (Do I?) And that's what kids do best. Touch everything. But that doesn't explain the sweatshirt, the tissue, the dust. Those are mine. And I don't feel like picking them up. Not right now.

Lego houses are plastic anyway. Lego people can't bend their knees. And I'd hate to have one expression painted on my face all the time. So: welcome, rot. Let's shake hands. I'm trying to be okay with you.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

solstice

The sun hasn't shined in weeks.

The news is filled with violence.

Some of the very best people die too young.

There are whole cultures that straight up hate each other.

And I disappoint myself every single day.

But today when I was out walking, I saw a hubcap leaning against the base of a street sign, propped there on the off-chance someone might come back looking for what was lost.

It's as simple as a head nod to a stranger, a door held open, a single coin in the donation box: one extra minute of daylight tacked onto tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Surya Namaskara, in the shower

We're always living
one
inch
from
disaster.

This is the thought that comes to me
in the shower
while the notch-too-hot water
reddens the skin
on the back of my neck--hurts
so good.
The thought
is like
a slap,
a clap,
something loud and startling
right in my face.

I widen my eyes
at the white shower wall
in front of me,
at the beads of water
sticking,
dripping,
tears sliding down,
so obvious:

The edge is always right
here.
We're toeing the
line.
Even in our
sleep.

I swallow once,
twice--

and panic sinks
into the horizon
where shadows burn
with the heat of the rising sun.

Friday, December 5, 2014

a love letter

I know you're in a tough spot right now.
I can see that it's hard for you,
even though you're pretty good at kicking dirt over your own rawness
and planting flowers on top.
I don't know how you do that.

But the space between us is so full of sound, so overflowing with movement,
that I can't seem to reach across it,
not with my hands or anything else.
And I worry -- do I seem unfeeling to you?

I think I'm showing you that I love you when I--
  --iron your shirts, make dinner, clean up, try to help with bedtime--
But I don't always do these things with an air of selfless service.
That's mostly because:
  I'm in a tornado 
  and the wind takes my breath away and 
  whips my hair across my face and 
  knocks me over sometimes, too. 

You see that. And I know you understand.
But:
I want to give you something else.
Something softer than a crisp shirt or a cooling dinner.

  Something more like:
  The expansive space at the top of an inhale
  The warm gap between sleeping and waking
  The peaceful rhythm of new snow creaking under my boots
  The rushing energy of one hundred geese flying overhead

Basically, a place to rest.

But I know I'm not that. I never have been, have I?
Not even under the influence of motherhood,
which is such a rounding, softening force.
My edges have always been sharp.

But I'm trying to evolve
And I am
so
so
honored to receive your support in my efforts.
You probably can't see any difference
yet
but I want you to know this:

  If you see any softening,
     it is for you. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

close

Everything depends on this:
your hands on the steering wheel,
your awareness of the periphery,
your foot lightly on the brake.

I watch you turn left through the intersection. I am stationary
At the stop light.
The space between us narrows
and
narrows.
For a fractured second I'm sure you're going to
Hit my car.
It won't be a fatal crash, but it will be
Enough.
I wait for it--

I see your face:
your sunglasses,
your body leaned into the turn,
your jacket open just at the top,
your hair the same color
As mine. I wonder where you're going--

You navigate the turn.
It's not even a close call,
really. I'm not sure what I was thinking,
Once you're gone.
I'm not sure why I drew my breath in so sharply.
Why I'm still holding it.

My light turns green and I exhale.
The image of you dissolves
into pixels that blow off the roof of my car
As I accelerate,
Powdery snow trailing behind me, diluted and lost.

Monday, December 1, 2014

narrow

I know a lot less than I used to.

No, that's not true.

I actually know more.

Wait, I don't think that's accurate either.

What I know now is different than what I knew before.

Before what? Before kids, I guess. My world narrowed so much when one was born, and then another, and then another, and yet one more still. It narrowed all the way down to the walls of this house.

  Please don't practice pliĆ©s while I'm wiping your butt. 
          I can't believe I just said that.
     If you can't wait patiently for your turn I'll just throw it in the trash 
     and you won't use it at all. 
          I said that, too.

My world narrows further still, and sometimes all I can consider is everything inside the boundary of my own body.

A mind that bounces off the walls of an eternal to-do list, pockets of tension around this annoyance and that frustration, cells boiling over from too much noise too much activity or -- imploding into absence of meaningful conversation. 

Sometimes I think this narrowing is sad. Sometimes I see it as selfish.

But I also know this:

I am a whole universe. There are galaxies flung in every direction, distant stars bound together by unseen fibers stretched across the space between a breath, life burgeoning on blue-white planets, completely [or partially] undiscovered. 

So there's another dimension to this narrowing: it is an expansion, too.
     A flower blooming inside out,
          petals unfurling into darkness,
                growing toward a single point of light that is not as far away
                     as it might
                                     first
                                           appear.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

writing from a sentence

The reason you keep your hand moving is because there’s often a conflict between the editor and the creator. The editor is always on our shoulder saying, “Oh, you shouldn’t write that. It’s no good.” But when you have to keep the hand moving, it’s an opportunity for the creator to have a say. All the other rules of writing practice support that primary rule of keeping your hand moving. The goal is to allow the written word to connect with your original mind, to write down the first thought you flash on, before the second and third thoughts come in. -Natalie Goldberg
So, this is what I've been doing lately when I write: keep the hand moving. I usually write directly after meditation practice so I'm starting from a clear mind. I often begin with "I remember" or "I see" or just some image that pops into my mind. Yesterday I didn't have a planned starting place but I wanted to try asking for a sentence at the end of my meditation practice. I did that before, and it was so interesting what came out -- that nearly-fainting-in-church experience wasn't something I had been actively thinking about.

So I was sitting there, still and quiet, and I had just asked for a sentence. Suddenly, my 2-year-old daughter shouts: "Mama! I. Want. Cheerios!" I had sort of forgotten about her (I let her watch TV while I meditate). Her voice sliced into my consciousness -- not like a sword, not drawing blood, but like a wedge, separating. I opened my eyes, surprised by the brightness of the room and something else light: I did not feel a tightness in my chest, a rebellion, that part of me screaming, "Leave me alone!". I'm very familiar with that voice. But it was quiet.

I held my sentence in my hands for a few minutes, then I got up to pour the Cheerios.

Monday, November 24, 2014

searching for

I remember reading about saints as a child and the longing I felt to experience something miraculous, something I could hold onto, physically see, something that would be evidence of my own holiness or specialness, evidence that I was somehow good at faith, that I really was a child of God as I had been taught. I remember convincing myself (in third grade, this might have been) that the statue of Mary in church lifted her downcast eyes and looked at me during school mass. Later, I passed a note to my best friend during class with a sketch of what I wanted to believe had happened, as if retelling the story would make it true. I don't remember my friend's reaction but I do remember that longing. It was something like a dark spot on the sun; it drew my eye, it had to be explored. I wanted something I could put there, a way to fill that gap between my head and my heart, something I could trust. Authenticity. 

I also remember this happening:

My heartbeat is the loudest thing I can imagine. 

The sun pulses along with it. Except I'm indoors. There is no sun. Just the heat expanding in my body, bright and hot. 

My vision clouds as black specks condense on my periphery. I remain kneeling because this is the consecration. I know it's okay to sit if I need to. But I don't want to draw attention to myself.  

All the color has gone from my face. I felt it leave. My breath feels constricted, squeezed, the smallest thing I can imagine. I'm starting to not be able to hear. A buzzing creeps into my head and starts trickling down my skull like rain dripping there. 

With a shallow exhale I sit back and let my head drop to my knees. My vision clears. I can hear the priest's voice again but I'm not listening to his words, just my breath, a whooshing in my ears. I feel like an emergency until finally I'm not. The teacher asks if I'm okay. I am. 

This is not an experience; this is low blood pressure. 

___

Now, there's this:

When I still myself I can feel my pulse bouncing no echoing no calling from inside my body, a rhythm vibrating with a sound I can almost hear but it's on the other side of something, a wall or something else in the way. I press my face against it and there's a small hole I can see through, just barely if I align my eye just so. It's big out there, wide and wild and more than everything. I want to force my hand through the gap, widen the hole and wiggle my entire body through. But that's the thing, I have to leave my body behind and I don't know how to do that. I sense my hands on my thighs, resting there and I can't remember if they're palms up or palms down. I'm thinking palms down but it could really be either way. I shrink to a point for a split second before I crash back into full awareness and I open my eyes. 

I'm not pretending. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

I don't always write about my kids

I watched the woman walk down the sidewalk in those heels: tall, narrow, impossible. She wobbled, but expertly so. She wobbled the way you should when you're wearing heels: a slight external rotation, the same with each step. It's not really a wobble, then, but a pattern of walking. So I should say she stepped expertly, with precision and confidence. I'd have to say she rocked those heels. And her ass, as huge as it was, stretching that black and white zebra print as it did, moved with a rhythm that magnetized my eyes. I had to stare at her ass. And I'm not normally one for ass-staring; it's not my thing. But stare is what I did, as if hypnotized. It was a neutral thing, a zoned stare. I followed her progress down the sidewalk with my eyes, the rhythm of her step both audible and visual, until she turned into a doorway and disappeared.